Last week, a handful of iOS practitioners from Deloitte Digital studios in Seattle, Denver, and London came together for WWDC 2014. The week was full of information for all of them to bring back to the studios, as we help clients prepare for how these changes may affect their businesses.
Get a glimpse of what they learned at the conference with some of their individual, high-level takeaways from their experience at WWDC 2014.
In my opinion, one of the biggest updates our clients will benefit from centers around the concept of cohesion. The steps Apple has taken this year have the potential to make a huge impact and may affect almost every market we’re in.
Apple has been enabling smart devices for a while now—like the popular fitness wearables, home temperature control and lighting devices. However, until now, each of these required a separate app, and only that app could get the information from those devices. With Apple’s introduction of HealthKit, HomeKit and extensions, the power of these devices has been opened up to other applications. This allows users to access everything in one central location.
As an example, imagine that you’re a diabetic patient that requests strict monitoring of your vitals. As it stands now, there are a ton of smart devices which let you monitor blood sugar level, blood pressure, etc. Today you’d have to manually provide those values to your health care provider. With HealthKit, each application will automatically update your HealthKit record, and if you’ve allowed your insurance company’s application to access those HealthKit records, it could monitor those values and alert your doctor of them without any intervention from the user.
With these updates, our clients in the home appliance and health industries have lots of new opportunities to begin taking advantage of.
iOS 8 / Mac OS X Yosemite. I see Apple starting the process of bringing the Mac and iOS platforms closer together. In the two new software releases, there are a number of new features built in to the operating system that are generally of the theme of adaptivity and continuity. The two operating systems have new features that allow a user to move between devices, keep important files stored remotely in the cloud, and easily use phone and hotspot features of a phone from a Mac. Here are a few.
Swift Programming Language. I spent every night during the week of the conference poring over reference materials and building applications using new features. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience working with Swift, and I look forward to hearing what other engineers in the field think as well.
HealthKit. Apple is making it easy to protect sensitive health data using security technologies like Touch ID. When consumers feel more comfortable managing their medical priorities on a mobile device, it can open the door to new possibilities for healthcare related mobile applications. HealthKit allows developers to build innovative applications for fitness, health monitoring, and medical management, without having to worry about all of the risk associated with accessing health information and storing it securely from scratch.
HomeKit. This makes it convenient to manage different “Scenes” and devices within a home, reducing the clutter of multiple 3rd party apps to control lighting, thermostat, audio, etc. I’m looking forward to seeing what the effective implementations of HomeKit are in the next year or two.
Beta testing. With the acquisition of TestFlight brought a new beta testing ability through the developer portal and iTunes Connect. Now, it will be simple to distribute applications to beta testers without using third party services.
Enterprise devices. New features allow enterprise devices to be “enrolled” without the box ever being opened. When they are turned on, they will configure themselves, including downloading iBooks from a secure server. This could be useful for distributing marketing, branding, or creative materials quickly with the same configuration.
Localization/accessibility. Apple continued to add quality features that support adapting mobile and desktop apps to be accessible to a larger audience. Custom iOS keyboards will allow companies like Swype to bring their technologies to iOS, as well as support custom international keyboards that can be designed by third-party developers.
I think WWDC 2014 has provided a wealth of information and opportunity for our clients. The theme of the conference has been “open.” Increasingly, Apple is embracing the developer community and allowing access to the software and device sensors that can potentially help new businesses to launch. And to cap the week, a new programming language that will make iOS development accessible to an even wider audience.
For me, the biggest announcement was the new programming language. A lot of people at the conference were pretty excited about it. It will be a challenge, but in the long run I anticipate it will make writing apps easier and less error prone.
There were two other new development features that I was particularly keen on. One was the new adaptive layouts, which means you don’t need to worry as much about taking all the different screen sizes and orientations into account when designing and developing your application. This was supplemented by lots of improvements to Interface Builder to make laying out applications much easier. The second was Extensions, which allow you to add direct access to your application to other applications. For example, if you have a file sharing application, you can now have an icon for your app in the Sharing action sheet of other apps, that will take them directly to your app. You can also add a widget to the notifications panel.
These features add a lot to our ability to help clients smooth out the experiences for their users across platforms.
I am blown away by how much Apple has done over the last year. Perhaps the general public may not be impressed, since no new hardware came out. But, in my view, this really does feel like the most significant set of changes for developers since the original App Store opened its doors.
There were too many changes to list here. But one that I find fascinating is Apple’s new emphasis on “adaptability” in user interfaces. In other words, writing code that will adapt itself to different screen sizes. They talked about how this was intended for creating code that does not have to be explicitly conditionalized for iPhone and iPad, and for handling rotation in a more intelligent manner. But my view is that it’s a great way for Apple to get developers to start preparing for upcoming product changes and/or releases—perhaps iPhones with bigger screens, watches/wearables. Time will tell.
From an end user perspective, I’m interested in the new ability to use the Messages app in Yosemite to send SMS messages to non-iPhones. It is like they read my mind. I have been using Messages on Mavericks more and more lately, and when I am at my computer and I need to reply to a text message, I get annoyed every time it is from somebody without an iPhone, and I have to actually use the phone to reply.
Apple is entering into the indoor location-tracking realm by allowing businesses to submit their floor plans to them. By using a combination of wifi, motion sensing and Bluetooth LE, Apple can tell establishments (retailers, hospitals etc.) the location of the user (if they choose) and enhance their experience in the establishment. Imagine guiding a patient from the parking garage to the doctor’s office.
Apple also announced HomeKit, which allows your phone to work with multiple vendors who provide home automation solutions. By defining a common protocol for the widely fragmented home automation market, Apple is setting the stage for a future where you can discover and control any micro controller device that you install at home.
Health was another aspect that WWDC covered. Apple introduced HealthKit which allows apps that measure your heart rate, blood pressure to record the data in a centralized location so that other apps can leverage that information. Maybe your running app can take advantage of your weekly heart rate readings that you provided to another app. I am curious to see how this play out in the market, and whether the third-party fitness companies will want to potentially share their data with competitors. It’s a catch-22 situation and may end up requiring more incentives for adoption.